For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/SG/2625
Release Date:   3 August 2000
Information Technology Should Be Used to Tap Knowledge from 
Greatest Universities to Bring Learning to All, Kofi Annan Says

NEW YORK, 2 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address today in Legon, Ghana, upon receiving an honourary degree from the University of Ghana:

It is a very special privilege for me to receive an honourary degree from the University of Ghana.  To come home to such a reception is an experience that I will always treasure.  I wish to congratulate the Chancellor on his election at a time when educating the young has been recognized as one of the most important challenges facing our country.  Standing here, in the Great Hall of Ghana’s premier institution of higher learning, I wish to reflect on the cause of education in Ghana and around the world.  

In the information age, the greatest natural resource any nation possesses -– greater than any mineral, mine or missile -- is the potential of its young to learn, to deepen their knowledge, and to put their skills to proper use.  The key to prosperity in the twenty-first century is knowledge and education –- above all for the countries of the developing world.  Indeed, education has never been more important to the future of Africa.

To the students in the audience today, I would say that you have already succeeded in taking the first, most important step.  To appreciate how much more your education is valued today than in the past, let me remind you of the statement of the Asantahene in 1876, and I quote, that “Ashantee children have better work to do than to sit down all day idly to learn hoy.  They have to fan their parents, and do other work which is better.”  Now you know what you could have been doing instead!  You have dedicated yourselves -– through hard work and careful study -- to making the most of the your abilities and your talents.  

As you embark on your careers –- in whichever field you choose -- I ask you to share with your fellow citizens the privilege of learning, and help open the door of higher education to many more of your own generation and the next.  I would also ask you to think of education as more than just the accumulation of facts and figures.  True education is more than the accumulation of knowledge.  There is -- or there should be -- a qualitative change that one can see in a truly educated person.  In the deepest sense, an educated person exhibits values, character and behaviour that stand out among his or her peers.

What marks out the truly educated person?

First and foremost is humility.  How often have we not been struck by the fact that the most learned people are the first to acknowledge how little they really know, and how much more they wish to learn.  In the course of my duties, I have met a wide range of international statesmen as well leaders in the public and private sector.  

I have been struck by the fact that the greatest men and women are also the most unassuming, the most ready to concede how much their achievements are owed to others.  The greater they are, the more they reveal their willingness to learn from others.  Another feature of the truly educated is their commitment to goals higher and broader and deeper than their own self-interest.  They are too busy thinking of others, and making a difference in the lives of others, to be engrossed in themselves.  To me, that is another mark of the truly educated.

Their moral, physical, intellectual and spiritual strength is mobilized towards that higher purpose to which they are committed.  These are the men and women who have left a firm imprint in the sands of time.  These are the great heroes whose memories we cherish, and whose example we seek to emulate -- figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.  Our own great figures of the past -- John Mensah Sarbah, Kwegyir Aggrey, A. L. Adu and Robert Gardiner -- were driven by the same commitment to the many and not the few, to the powerless and not the powerful.  

This was also the case with the leaders who laid the foundations of education in this great country -– Governors MacLean, Fraser, Guggisberg, Philip Quacoo, F. L. Bartels, as well as the founders of the great missionary boarding schools which produced many of us assembled here today -– Mfantsipim, Adisadel, Achimota, Prempeh and others.

The challenge facing us today is to build on their commitment to education in a new century in which education is more critical than ever to a nation’s progress.  Since the most valued resource in this age is intellectual capital, it is possible for the developing world to overcome traditional constraints and to leapfrog long and painful stages of the road to development.  I therefore look to you -– the leaders of tomorrow -– to use your knowledge to educate your societies  -- here in Ghana and throughout the Continent -- and teach them to make education a priority, today and in the future.

Fortunately, in many developing countries, educational levels have climbed dramatically over the past half-century.  Indeed, East Asia’s rapid reduction of poverty has had a great deal to do with its investments in education.  But in Africa, we still have a long way to go.  That is why the World Education Forum in Dakar in April set the goal of ensuring that by 2015, all children everywhere -- boys and girls alike -- will be able to complete primary schooling.  But in order to truly build on our founders’ achievements -– here in Ghana as everywhere -– we must ensure that secondary education receives equal attention.  There lies the key to development and progress.

I believe that the university must become a primary tool for Africa’s development in the new century.  Universities can help develop African expertise; they can enhance the analysis of African problems; strengthen domestic institutions; serve as a model environment for the practice of good governance, conflict resolution and respect for human rights; and enable African academics to play an active part in the global community of scholars.  

Information technology should be used to tap knowledge from the greatest universities in the world, and bring their learning to all.  In fact, information technology can facilitate progress across a wide range of issues.  In order to make the most effective use of these new opportunities, however, African universities must be strengthened, financially and technologically.  The recent announcement made by four American Foundations -– the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller, Ford and MacArthur foundations -- to invest $100 million in higher education in Africa is a very welcome step forward.  It is intended to assist universities with capacity-building both in terms of infrastructure and human resources.  I hope that universities throughout Africa will make the most of this opportunity and forge lasting partnerships with their American counterparts.

In my own efforts to make the United Nations a more effective actor in the world of information technology and development, I have proposed the creation of a United Nations Information Technology Service -– a consortium of volunteer groups from developed and developing countries -- which I have named UNITeS.  

The UNITeS will train groups in developing countries in the uses and opportunities of information technology, and stimulate the creation of additional digital corps in the North and the South.  Through this programme, we will help bridge the digital divide by facilitating the most advanced assistance to Africa from the developed world.

None of these programmes, none of these ideas for using technology and knowledge to propel Africa’s progress, will bear fruit unless we Africans recommit ourselves to a new beginning –- without war, without corruption and without tyranny.  Just as the international community is showing a growing interest in helping Africa realize its potential, we are expected to do our part.

Today, I wish to salute the new generation among us, for doing their part in learning and striving to improve themselves and their communities.  

In Ghana’s traditional societies, education was an informal activity that was carried out by the community, where the young would learn from the elders before assuming their responsibilities.  Allow me to suggest that the community is no less important today, even in the age of the Internet.  As parents, friends, students and citizens of Ghana we have a common duty to ensure that all our people benefit from the promise of education in the information age.

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